Sunday, July 27, 2014

Senator Blunt’s Bill To Promote Religious Freedom In Middle East Heads To President’s Desk

Senator Roy Blunt's office issued the following:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) today applauded the U.S. House of Representative’s unanimous consent of the “Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act,” which he introduced and U.S. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (Mich.) co-sponsored to encourage President Barack Obama to appoint a special envoy to promote religious freedom among religious minorities in the Middle East. The bill overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Senate on July 10, 2014, and will now head to the President’s desk. To read the bill, click here.

“As we continue to witness disturbing violence against religious minorities in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, I’m pleased both chambers of Congress have passed this bipartisan bill to demonstrate that the U.S. takes religious freedom very seriously,” said Blunt. “I urge the President to sign this bill into law quickly and appoint a special envoy to promote religious freedom among all persecuted religious communities in these critical regions.”

Blunt recently spoke on the U.S. Senate floor to urge U.S. officials to aggressively protect the rights of religious minorities throughout the world, specifically calling for the release of Meriam Ibrahim and her family in Sudan, as well as Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran. Please click here to watch his remarks.

“It is a tragic fact that in much of this region, the freedom to worship in keeping with one’s conscience is in doubt,” Levin said. “Passage of this legislation strengthens America’s role in protecting religious minorities from violence, persecution and fear.”

Additional Background Information:
As the New York Times recently reported, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has forced remaining Christians to flee Mosul, subjecting what’s left of these centuries-old faith communities in Iraq to unprecedented violence and displacement.

Blunt and Levin originally introduced legislation to protect religious minorities in the Middle East in June 2011. Blunt also introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in November 2013 to appoint a special envoy in the Near East and South Central Asia. In December 2013, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee overwhelmingly passed Blunt’s bipartisan legislation. U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (Va.) introduced a companion bill in the House.

In addition to Blunt and Levin, the bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), John Boozman (Ark.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), and Roger Wicker (Miss.).

In October 2013, Blunt joined U.S. Senators Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry noting recent reports of more frequent, targeted attacks against Coptic churches and individuals in Egypt “warrants a clear U.S. response.” In August 2013, Blunt reiterated his calls for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation aimed at promoting and protecting religious freedoms throughout the region.

Blunt serves on both the defense authorizing and appropriations committees, and he is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.